4 Book Reviews

It’s been about a month and a half since I posted my last book review. Although my reading has slowed as I got back into writing, I’ve still been reading. In fact, after watching Netflix’s Inside Bill Gates’ Brain it inspired me to read more. Bill always carries around approximately 15 books on a myriad of non-fiction subjects. Apparently he reads at a phenomenal rate and retains most of it in memory. While I can’t achieve that, I know reading is beneficial.

For this week, I thought I’d take a break from sharing my novelette Escape from Hell. At three chapters in, the character has just made it to Hell and if you haven’t read the story yet now is the perfect time to catch up. Next week I’ll share the fourth chapter.

I’ve read a number of books in the last couple of months, so it’s time for a quick-splattering of review, and some writing insights these books have provided.

The most recent I finished was Michael Connelly’s Two Kinds of Truth. (Genre: Crime Fiction). Bosch is simultaneously trying to solve a double-murder and clear his name from a corruption allegation made by a serial rapist.

I believe this is the third Bosch novel I’ve read, and enjoyed. Connelly does a great job of bringing in some flavour with the faint-yet-visible emotional struggles of his characters.

One thing that is interesting is the pattern that Connelly seems to have. Bosch always seems to be solving two crimes simultaneously. There always seems to be two plots. I’m trying to remember (and failing) if one plot gets more ‘page time’ than the other? I this particular case, the serial rapist is coming up for a slam-dunk get-out-of-jail-free court case in a week. That puts a timer on the plot; Bosch has a week to prove he didn’t plant evidence. The inclusion of two main plots adds to the drama, making the reader feel more tension and the weariness of Bosch. He’s juggling a lot of balls in the air, which also gels well with what we see about detectives on TV.

Tiamat’s Wrath is book 8 of The Expanse series by the authors known as James S. A. Corey. (Genre: Science Fiction) This series I have previously raved about.

In some ways I don’t think I can give a fair review of this book. I completed the read over a month ago and memories fade. More impactfully, I was mistakenly thinking it was the last book as I read it. (It is instead, the penultimate). Whenever I read a ‘last book’ in a series I always hold myself back a little: as though I don’t want to enjoy it too much, because it’s coming to an end. Consequently I highlighted fewer passages than normal, I believe a symptom of my end-of-series malady rather than the relative quality of the book.

The lines I did appreciate though:

  • Carrie Fisk of the Association of Worlds […] with the governors […] fighting to be the first one laughing at her jokes.
  • Growing older was a falling away of everything that didn’t matter. And a deepening appreciation of all the parts that were important enough to stay.
  • It was cunning almost to the point of wisdom.
  • “You take care of your tools, your tools take care of you.”
  • Naomi’s role in the underground, the underground’s ability to survive, everything was radically uncertain. They papered over the gaps with hospitality and kindness.
  • Timothy watched her like she was giving birth and he wasn’t a doctor. The visible understanding that there was probably something he should be doing to help, but he didn’t know what it was.
  • Evolution was a paste-and-baling-wire process that came up with half-assed solutions like pushing teeth through babies’ gums and menstruation. Survival of the fittest was a technical term that covered a lot more close-enough-is-close-enough than actual design.
  • Two men, each convinced of their exceptionalism, were capable of leapfrogging over vast chasms of maybe-this-isn’t-a-great-idea and this-is-totally-illegal.
  • “He’s dead. I saw it.”
    “So they’ve told me. He was a good . . . Well, he wasn’t really exactly a good person. He cared enough to try, anyway. But he was loyal as hell.”
    Holden paused. “He was my brother. I loved him.”
  • Being reminded that they’d been building roads through a dragon’s mouth left him jumpy.
  • This place is made out of palace intrigue and fear as much as it is concrete
  • Dreams were fragile things to build with. Titanium and ceramic lasted longer.
  • Naomi stepped over and put her arms around him. It was like hugging a metal strut.

The interesting words in this book: pearlescent, tisane, orrery, gestalt, anthropomorphizing, Heliosphere, interminable, bioluminescence and gratis.

(Genre: Legal Thriller) In The Gods of Guilt by Michael Connelly, we follow the character Bosch’s half-brother, Mickey Halley, a defence lawyer.

I enjoy the cross-over that occurs between Halley and Bosch books. The characters, float in and out, as you’d expect in a family relationship where they both work the same patch (crime).

It’s a solid book with twists and turns in the plot. I’d have to say I like Bosch books better; maybe because it’s easier to relate to the hero cop than the defence lawyer who can be a little greasy at times. It’s interesting that the two Connelly books are similar in many ways. One involves crooked cops, the other crooked lawyers.

(Both of the Michael Connelly books were read in hard-cover, so I can’t provide highlights. I’m one of these people who can’t ‘mark’ a book up).

I picked up Messages by John Hileman for free during a promotional event, and one should not look a gift-horse in the mouth.

It’s a faith-based story, and I think those are particularly hard. It’s pushing a message, without trying to over-push…a tight rope to walk. It’s also hard to know who your audience is: are you writing for Christians (who might know and understand the belief system), or for non-Christians (in which case the approach has to be entirely different, I think).

The best of my highlights:

  • “You know what is right, and what is wrong, because God has put it in you to know. But there are many who hear lies, and for whatever reason, be it wealth, sex, power, you name it, they give their ear to the lies. Something inside them chooses the lie over what they know is truth, and slowly, almost imperceptibly, they begin to allow their heart to be calloused, until they are no longer bothered by the evil, because they have justified it in their own mind.”
  • The second hand made its way around with no regard for the violence it would bring
  • “Why does God let bad stuff happen to good people, even people who are trying to do what he wants them to do?”
    “You’re assuming there are good people. … You’re caught up in relativism. You think because you’re not as bad as the next guy, that makes you good. If a thief stood before a judge and said, ‘I know I took all that money from the bank, but I’m not as bad as that other guy who kills people and likes it,’ do you think the judge is going to say, ‘You know, you’re right. You’re a pretty good guy. I’ll let you go.’? Of course not!”

It’s funny how you see your mistakes more easily when others’ make them. In Messages there’s a brief passage where the character receives an email from someone who can’t spell. Those few paragraphs contain spelling errors. I’ve done the same before. Now, reading it, without the I-wrote-this-bias, I don’t recommend it. It comes off tacky.

Also, I’m guessing it might have been cold while the story was being written. In fairly close positioning (i.e. several pages only) there were the lines ‘Unconsciousness crept over her like a warm blanket’ and ‘ David’s eyelids slid down like a warm blanket’. Be careful with expressions like this: use them one only.

Some interesting words: vestibule, barcalounger, orneryer.

Book Review: Persepolis Rising

Although my recent review for book 6 of The Expanse series was scathing, it was an aberration in an otherwise fantastic series. Book 7, Persepolis Rising, returns to the adventure and style of the earlier novels.

Book 7 is set approximately thirty years after book 6. It is the first and substantial time-gap in the series. So why jump time? Only the authors known as James S.A. Corey can answer their motivations, but I’m happy to think on the subject for a few minutes.

In most of the writing I’ve done, I have a ‘fast forward x period’ too. It’s not an aspect of my own writing I particularly like, but it’s sometimes necessary. For me, it’s when I then want to show the reader the flow-on effects of an event without having a 600 page tome. It can also be about skipping the boring bits.

At the end of book 5 Earth has been bombarded by asteroids. Book 6 explores that theme a little more, but it’s already evident before that humanity is teetering on the brink of collapse. (As a disabled man, I understand that feeling well). Everything is in death throes; infrastructure is going to rapidly fall apart and the environment is on life-support…

All efforts are going to be trying to survive, and maybe help others that can be saved. It’s going to be pretty darn depressing without much happiness to go around. Even if the characters pull-off miraculous feats of heroism, nearly everyone is still going to die. It’s not so much a downward slide for humanity, more like a free-fall. That is a very hard context to write in (not to mention, read).

What about post-apocalyptic stories, they exist, right? Honestly I haven’t read many (my choice rather than a lack of availability). The only one I can recall is World War Z, which is a collection of short stories about the zombie apocalypse. With such limited reading, I can only fallback to television. In those stories it’s normally a band of survivors working together to stay alive… not pockets of humanity separated by millions of light years of empty space. Perhaps that is rich fodder for story telling for some, but I struggle to see how it would work.

I really enjoyed book 7 for how it portrayed that 30-year gap. This book is a great guide on how to do the passage of time well.

At the macro-level (in society):

  • For children born today, the Belt was the thing that tied all humanity together. Semantic drift and political change.

(Which is to say, the meaning and importance of things change. Semantic drift is also a lovely phrase, reminding me of how dunes gradually drift over decades).

In the age of inanimate objects:

  • but an atmospheric landing in a ship as old as the Rocinante wasn’t the trivial thing it had once been. Age showed up in unexpected ways. Things that had always worked before failed. It was something you prepared for as much as you could.

  In how character’s think and act:

  • Bobbie patted the words as she walked by and climbed onto the ladder lift that ran up the center of the ship. The Roci was at a very gentle 0.2 g braking burn, and there had been a time when riding the lift instead of climbing the ladder would have felt like admitting defeat, even if the ship was burning ten times that hard. But for the last couple years Bobbie’s joints had been giving her trouble, and proving to herself that she could make the climb had stopped mattering as much. It seemed to her that the real sign you were getting old was when you stopped needing to prove you weren’t getting old.
  • Decades of living and working in the same place meant you never had to ask for someone to pass the salt at galley time.
  • “My feet hurt,” Amos said. “Kind of all the time now. Glad these Belters keep the rotation at a third of a g.”
  • Bobbie felt the pressure of time slipping away like she was watching a door close, with her on the wrong side of it.

And then there are the characters I’ve grown to cherish, especially Amos:

  • It was easy to forget sometimes the depth of focus and intelligence behind Amos’ cheerful violence.
  • Amos’ voice had gone so flat, it might have been a badly written computer simulation of him. He was checking out of the conversation.
  • He didn’t need to see the amiable smile [on Amos’ face] to know it was there, and how little it meant.
  • From the way they talked, Holden could almost believe that they wouldn’t kill each other, given the chance. Almost, but not enough that he was sorry to be there. Maybe Katria really didn’t hold a grudge about the fight that Amos had started. And maybe Amos wasn’t spoiling to start another one. Or maybe the bomb was the most stable thing in the cart.

And Holden:

  • Holden was smiling like a salesman, as if his radiant goodwill could warm up every other interaction in the room.
  • The Holden she knew was a guy who drank too much coffee, got enthusiastic about weird things, and always seemed quietly worried that he would compromise his own idiosyncratic and unpredictable morality.
  • He didn’t look like anything more than an old ice bucker with a little too much curiosity and too little impulse control.

I also liked the beginning of the book which had this hooking quote early on:

“If you want to create a lasting, stable social order,” Duarte said, “only one person can ever be immortal.”

…and the way the book ended, where it wasn’t all a neat bow. (Which is unusual, and refreshing, for the series).

If you’ve read Persepolis Rising, I’d be keen to hear your thoughts on it too.

Living Water: Forgiveness

This is the third post looking at chapter 3 of Brother Yun’s Living Water. The first two chapters were covered in previous posts on Repentance and Lessons from Esau (better termed, Life Derailment).

I believe that forgiveness is an important topic whether or not you ascribe to a faith. In our lives all of us would have come across, and then likely runaway from, bitter people. A lack of forgiveness causes a person to become bitter and that bitterness leaks out, polluting their lives and those around them. Bitterness is toxic and drives most sane people away; they aren’t enjoyable to be around.

It is easy to be bitter. As humans we can easily hurt others, intentionally and unintentionally, through our words and actions. I remember hurtful (albeit somewhat true) things that were said to me more than twenty years ago. Many people have suffered physical and emotional wounds by others, or events in their lives, that have left deep scars. Bitterness isn’t a dormant rock which weighs you down; it is a cancer which spreads and affects your whole life. Unchallenged, it grows in size and over time will suck the joy and hope from your life. It will cause you to become thorn-like, which pushes others away and stops you from being embraced.

Brother Yun uses the analogy of bitterness being a weed in the garden of your heart. He makes a valid statement in today’s beauty-and-success-conscious world,

“Many people spend a lot of time and effort trying to beautify the outside of their lives, pulling up the surface weeds when really they need to go below the surface and dig up the root.”

Forgiveness can be a challenge. Brother Yun, who has suffered brutal torture in Chinese re-education centres has a right (humanly-speaking) to be bitter and yet he says,

“there is absolutely no point in withholding forgiveness towards anyone, regardless of what they have done.” Yun understands that unforgiveness actually does more damage to the person holding onto it, than the one they are angry at. As the saying goes, bitterness is like (you) drinking poison and waiting for your enemy to die.

While reconciliation requires two people, forgiveness only requires one. And forgiveness doesn’t mean letting someone escape justice for their actions, only that we “release our own desire for vengeance and leave it in God’s hands.”

Forgiveness for a Christian is even more important. Actually, it’s mandatory according to Jesus. If we want to be forgiven for our sins, then we have to forgive those who sin against us (Matthew 6:14-15). Considering our job as Christians is to be ambassadors of reconciliation, it makes sense that the first place we have to do that is in our own lives. A bitter person can hardly tell others the good news about Jesus’ love. Not without it being a sad (and somewhat delusional) and unconvincing offer.

In my experience forgiveness in “challenging” situations is more than a one-time event. Our heart might struggle, wavering between anger and forgiveness. Just like a wound might need dressing multiple times to fully heal, so sometimes we have to make the choice to forgive. And that can be very hard.

What I find most personally challenging is not forgiving others, but forgiving myself for the mistakes I make. I’ve done and said dumb things which have hurt others, more often than I would like to admit. Even when I know better. And then my natural inclination is to dwell on the failures. I need to extend to myself the same forgiveness God has for me. Negative self-talk unchallenged, wreaks a dreadful cost in our lives. Allow conviction, not condemnation. Only our enemy, Satan, wants us to be trapped in the despair of condemnation.

The best way I can end this post is to quote the challenge Yun also posed:

“Dear friend, I encourage you to put this book down and spend some time in prayer, asking the Holy Spirit to show you if there is anyone you hold unforgiveness towards in your heart.”

And I’d add, including to yourself. Allow Jesus’ grace to extend to your innermost being.

Nemesis Games

This post is about my thoughts and favourite quotes from Nemesis Games by the authors known as James S A Corey. Nemesis Games is book five of The Expanse series. (It’s pretty much spoiler-free).

(My similar posts on earlier books in the series can be found here: Leviathan Wakes, Leviathan Wakes #2 – Caliban’s War – Abbadon’s Gate, and Cibola Burn).

Nemesis Games was an enjoyable ride; and I suspect, will be re-read in the future. One of the things that I loved about this novel was it took the reader in a new direction. Whimsically put, it asked the eternal question of ‘what happens to the cowboy, when you take away his horse?’

For the past four novels we’ve had the crew of the “Roci” flying around together, saving the day. Sometimes it was fending off the life-destroying advances of an alien organism and other times hampering the plans of Dr Evils. Often both at the same time. The important point was it always the crew working together: Alex piloting with finesse, Naomi fixing stuff, Amos breaking heads and Holden being optimistic and drinking coffee. The crew did their thing and the good guys one, even if it took a toll on them and the ship in the process. So what happens while their beloved ride, home and useful giant-gun, the Roci, is spending quality time in the ‘dry dock’?

“The construction sphere of Tycho Station glittered around Holden, brighter than stars. Ships hung in their berths in all states of undress, the Rocinante just one among many.”

First Amos had “a thing” to do back on Earth. Then Alex wanted to go to Mars to apologise to his ex, and Naomi has an urgent, private and dangerous trip she needs to make to Ceres station. Holden finds himself alone on Tycho. This book is one where their personal universes do somersaults. They’re separated and each trying to do the best they can alone; they’re a close knit family, separated by hundreds of millions of miles of space. Each of the crew get their own point-of-view, which is cool to spend time in their heads.

Back in the first book, Holden comments on the fact that they’re all on the ice hauler, the Canterbury, because everyone has a past. No one with their level of competency signs up for the grueling dead-end job unless they were running from something. In this novel Corey peels back layers of each crew member’s past.

One thing that strikes me upon reflection is how I feel about the characters. I have a greater sense of warmth toward them, at only book 5, than I did toward Rand et al in the 14 books of the Wheel of Time. Why is that? I think part of it is because in WOT the characters are often working against each other, at least somewhat. Whether it’s their personality or the conflicts of their occupations, they aren’t one big happy family. The team of the Roci, meanwhile, is always fiercely guarding each other… which is part of what endears them to me. Perhaps that’s unfair, given they are often separated from each other? Maybe it’s the genre. In WOT, fantasy, the characters are powerful, and perhaps more un-relatable. In The Expanse they’re all ‘human’, with no super powers, and therefore more relatable.

The world that Corey has created is futuristic: technology changes things, big and small. The languages, idioms and behaviours have all developed over time. For example, on Earth, “pimps” are now “walkers”. It’s a clever technique of writing – making the culture shift slight enough to be different without losing the association the reader will place on it.

Another important thing I noted is that there should always be edge cases when humans are involved. What do I mean by that? If disaster is coming not everyone will choose to move out of it’s way. People are complex. Sometimes we even make irrational decisions (or at least they appear to be so). Making world’s real mean that sometimes a few people should act in surprising way. We may be herd animals to a degree, but there should always be outliers.

My favourite highlights:

  • the mythology of manifest destiny hides a lot of tragedy.
  • Amos laughed. “Let me get a preemptive I – told – you – so in here. Since when that turns out not to be true, like it always does, I might not be there to say it.”
  • The long – haul transport was named the Lazy Songbird, but its birdlike qualities began and ended at the white letters painted on its side. From the outside, it looked like a giant garbage can with a drive cone on one end and a tiny ops deck on the other. From the inside, it looked like the inside of a giant garbage can except that it was divided into twelve decks, fifty people to a deck.
  • He worked his face for a minute, trying to find a version of his smile that didn’t scare little old men.
  • the last vestiges of youth falling from her and the first comfortable heft of middle age creeping in.
  • It felt a little like watching a hunting cat track a steak.
  • The words seemed to carry more nuance than they could bear, as if the simple logistical facts also meant something about why she’d left. About who they were to each other. It was like she could feel the words creaking…
  • Alex’s experience of real family – of blood relations – was more like having a lot of people who had all wound up on the same mailing list without knowing quite why they signed up for it.
  • “What did you do? ” Fred asked.
    “There was a button,” Holden said. “I pushed it.”
    “J*** C***. That really is how you go through life, isn’t it?”
  • The guard’s head hung slack and boneless in a way that clarified the situation.
  • The aliens that sent the protomolecule hadn’t needed to destroy humanity. They’d given humans the opportunity to destroy themselves, and as a species, they’d leaped on it.
  • Thing about civilization, it’s what keeps people civil. You get rid of one, you can’t count on the other.”
  • She rattled down the hallway like dice in a cup,
  • In the hangar, the Razorback hung in clamps built to accommodate ships much larger than she was. It was like seeing an industrial lathe with a toothpick in it.
  • But looking back through history, there are a lot more men who thought they were Alexander the Great than men who actually were.
  • “Can I get you one?”
    “More of a tea man, myself,” the other captain said. “If that’s an option.”
    “Don’t know that I’ve ever tried.”
    “No? ”
    “There was always coffee.”
  • “Thank you, Mister Patel,” Holden said. “In thanks, you may now have all my stuff. I don’t care about any of it anymore.”
    “Including the coffee maker, sir?”
    “Almost all my stuff.”
  • A funeral shroud was over the planet, and they all knew what was happening beneath it.
  • “How bad does that look?”
    “We’re not making any official statements, especially when James Holden’s in the room. No offense, but your track record for blurting information at inopportune moments is the stuff of legend.”
    “I’m getting better about that,” Holden said. “But yeah. I understand.”

And some good words: sclera, maw, gobbets, malefic, atavistic, taupe, albedo, substrate, wheedling, feckless, supine.

Cibola Burn

I recently finished the 4th book in The Expanse series, Cibola Burn.

For the first time in the books, humanity has begun exploring the distant solar systems using the alien portal system. And, true to human form, people are going to fight over who gets the spoils… with not much thought as to why all of the planets are uninhabited.

As the character, Bobbie, opines in the very first page of the book, “how quickly humanity could go from ‘what unimaginable intelligence fashioned these soul-wrenching wonders’ to ‘Well, since they’re not here, can I have their stuff?”

One of the charming things with this series is how connected and cohesive the books are. The same jokes, themes and character quirks are carried through the series.

While the previous books have had only a couple of point-of-view characters, Cibola Burn expands the viewpoints. I also like (and have probably mentioned it before) how a minor character in a previous book becomes a major character in another book. That parallel-living adds to the depth and richness of the world. Sure, someone might be tangential to the current story, but they have their own life going on. There’s no such thing as a “bit character” in the real world 🙂

Here are some of my favourite quotes from the book:

  • “Amos will look after you.”
    “Great, Holden said, “I’ll land in the middle of the tensest situation in two solar systems, and instead of the smartest person I know, I’ll bring the guy most likely to get in a bar fight.”
  • [After being told to ‘pack a bag’…] A few minutes later he was on the airlock deck with Amos. The mechanic had laid out two suits of their Martian-made light combat armor, a number of rifles and shotguns, and stacks of ammunition and explosives.
    “What,” Holden said, “I meant, like underwear and toothbrushes.”
    “Captain,” Amos said, almost hiding his impatience. “They’re killing each other down there. Half a dozen RCE security vanished into thin air, and a heavy lift shuttle got blown up.”
    “Yes, and our job is not to escalate that. Put all this sh*t away. Sidearms only. Bring clothes and sundries for us, any spare medical supplies for the colony. But that’s it.”
    “Later,” Amos said, “when you’re wishing we had this stuff, I am going to be merciless in my mockery. And then we’ll die.”
  • “I know who you are,” Amos said. The big man had been so quiet that both Murtry and Holden started with surprise.
    “Who am I?” Murtry asked, playing along.
    “A killer,” Amos said. His face was expressionless, his tone light. “You’ve got a nifty excuse and the shiny badge to make you seem right, but that’s not what this is about. You got off on smoking that guy in front of everyone. You can’t wait to do it again.”
    “Is that right?” Murtry asked.
    “Yeah. So, one killer to another, you don’t want to try that sh*t with us.”
    “Amos, easy.” Holden warned but the other two men ignored him.
    “That sounded like a threat,” Murtry said.
    “Oh, it really was,” Amos replied with a grin. Holden realized both men had their hands below the table.
    “Hey, now.”
    “I think maybe one of us is going to end bloody,” Murtry said.
    “How about now?” Amos replied with a shrug. “I’m free now. We can just skip all the middle part.”
  • Amos stepped in front of Basia and punched the RCE man in the face. It sounded like a hammer hitting a side of beef. The security man fell to the ground, a puppet whose strings had been cut.
  • “Choosing to stand by while people kill each other is also an action,” she said. “We don’t do that here.”
  • “Then tomorrow I’m going to figure out how to get my first officer back from the RCE maniac holding her hostage, so that I can go find the scary alien bullet fragment embedded in the planet. Amos nodded as if that all made sense.
    “Nothing in the afternoon, then.”
  • He tried the idea on like a new outfit. Seeing if he could find a way to make it fit.
  • There were a lot of holes in that logic that he carefully avoided thinking about.
  • “Right,” Holden said. “No coffee. This is a terrible, terrible planet.”
  • “Last man standing,” Amos replied with another grin. “It’s in my job description.
  • “Hey Miller,” Holden said, watching the robot peel up a two-meter section of the tunnel’s metal flooring and rapidly cut it into tiny pieces. “We’re still friends, right?”
    “What? Ah, I see. When I’m a ghost, you yell at me, tell me to get lost, say you’ll find a way to kill me. Now I’m wearing the shell of an invincible wrecking machine you want to be buddies again?”
    “Yeah, pretty much,” Holden replied.

Exotic words that you may want to google to increase your word power: magnetosphere, agraphobia, avuncular, analogs, byplay, proteomes, abode, encysted, carapace, nacreous, chitinous, assays, polymerized, neocortex, axioms, transuranics, dissemble, mitotic, tetrodotoxin, chiral, diurnal, arcology, sepulcher, amorality, patois

Book Review: Leviathan Wakes by James S. A. Corey

Some time ago, the beautiful Mrs Ezard and I sat down to watch The Expanse on Netflix. Being a bit of a scifi fan, I’m always keen to try something new. I’ve probably mentioned it before, with new shows we have a three-episode rule. That is, a show has three episodes to prove itself to us. In my recollection, The Expanse didn’t get a fair hearing; Mrs Ezard opened the airlock and jettisoned the show part way through the first episode. Which of course doesn’t stop me from watching the show, but it does make it less likely (as I tend to do it when she’s not around).

When season 2 of The Expanse came out, I thought I’d give it another go. A show that makes it over the first season obviously has some chops. (As was my theory at the time, although now I think about it there are plenty of shows which I think are terrible and are multi-seasons. Like Lost… in which a whole host of people find themselves spending hundreds of hours of their life to watch a show which actually has very little in the way of coherent or honest-with-the-audience story).

So anyway, I digress. When season 2 came out I gave it another go, and this time really liked it. Perhaps at the time when we originally watched it we just weren’t in the right frame of mind.
I’ve always had a soft spot for the noir detective type characters. The underdog who ends up saving the day, and is a bit uncouth while doing it. One of my partial drafts sitting in my metaphorical manuscript drawer is a noir detective.

And then one day at work I was on a resupply run (coffee) and saw someone reading a book that mentioned The Expanse. She very helpfully explained that The Expanse was based on a series by James S. A. Corey and that in fact the books were better than the show. (FYI: James S. A. Corey is actually the pen name of Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck). Always on the lookout for a good series to sink my eyes into, I made a note of the name and said I’d come to it after I finished reading The Wheel Of Time series.

Then the time came and I bought the book and started reading it, devouring the book within a few days. Leviathan Wakes (which is obviously book 1 of the series) is an excellent read that I thoroughly enjoyed. I would describe the book as a blend of space-based detective novel with a light-dusting of military scifi.

(Seems to how I’m recommending the book as a good read, I should add there is significant swearing. Fu: 89, Sh: 106 Bi: 13, Ba: 29. Perhaps it speaks to how engaging the book is, I didn’t really notice the swearing much as I was reading it. I’ve already read the second book and will be posting more about the language in that post).

I’m far from an astrophysicist, but the descriptions of gravity, space travel, space battles and the constraints placed on non-Earth colonies seemed good to me. There was enough detail that it sounded authentic, without me needing a science and maths degree to comprehend what they were saying. The conditions that the people lived in actually changed their lives. For example, the locals in ‘the belt’ had developed bodily-movements which replaced facial gestures (because when you’re in a space suit, facial gestures don’t work).

It was a real book-onion skin pages bound in what might have been actual leather. Miller had seen pictures of them before; the idea of that much weight or a single megabyte of data struck him as decadent.

It’s little things like differing behaviours and perspectives, which don’t actually effect the plot-line but do give the story depth.

I’ve previously written that I thought cliffhangers at the end of every chapter were a bad idea. This book has changed my position on that. Every single chapter ended with something that had me checking the time to see if I could squeeze in another chapter. A cliffhanger – or better described – something that makes me want to know what happens next is a good thing. (Also note the chapters are small ~normally a chapter was about 10 minutes reading time).

Speaking of chapters I noticed that the chapter titles follow a pattern e.g. “Chapter 1: Miller” will be from Miller’s point of view. However, even though the chapter title tells us who the Point Of View (POV) is, very often that is still re-iterated within the first sentence or two. Which I think is a good practice.

Interestingly, every chapter perfectly alternates between the two main POVs, the prologue and epilogue having a different POV. The same character never gets two chapters in a row.

Here are a few of my favourite highlights:

Descriptors:

  • Alex and Amos drank like sailors; a finger full in the bottom of the cup, tossed back all at once. Alex had a habit of saying “Hooboy!” after each shot. Amos just used a different profanity each time. He was up to his eleventh shot and so far had not repeated himself.
  • When Alex threw down the throttle and a roomful of elephants swan dived onto his chest.

Dialogue:

He hesitated for one second, then pressed the button to execute. The ship failed to vaporize.
“I guess Fred wants us alive, then” he said. Naomi slumped down with a noisy, extended exhale.
“See, this is why I can’t ever be in command,” she said.
“Don’t like making tough calls with incomplete information?”
”More I’m not suicidally irresponsible,” she replied.

And

“There’s a right thing to do,” Holden said.
“You don’t have a right thing, friend,” Miller said. ”You’ve got a whole plateful of maybe a little less wrong.

“He looks at his soul, sees the stains, and wants to be clean,” he said. “But you? You just shrug.”

And some interesting words:

  • iconography
  • quixotic
  • pogroms
  • microcephalic
  • annealing
  • penumbra
  • flagellum
  • sclera

Highlights from ‘A Memory of Light’

The dog didn’t eat my homework, but the browser and/or WordPress sure chewed and swallowed my post 😦 Thankfully I wasn’t finished but it still set me back a long way.

Earlier this year I began to re-read the Wheel of Time tomes. I’d never read the whole series, so I thought it was time. After reading 14 books and a staggering 4.4 million words the journey has ended. This is my final post where I discuss the last book – and share my favourite highlights from A Memory of Light. You can see all of my other reviews here:

This is spoiler-filled.

Writing the final book in this long series was always going to be a hard task. The reading audience is heavily invested and they expect to be rewarded for lasting through the previous 13 books. All the promises have been made and now all that remains is to fit all of the puzzle pieces together. Oh, and in case that isn’t hard enough the majority of the book is a battle. The Last Battle (i.e. it better be epic) where the forces of Light and Darkness clash for the final time. And the change in author (due to Jordan’s death) was always going to increase scrutiny. Certainly it was never going to be easy to write. Additionally the battle had to be stretched out to the length expected of a Wheel of Time book. No pressure, none at all… Brandon Sanderson deserves credit for taking on such a difficult task and doing it so well.

Making the Pieces Fit. I hadn’t considered it before read it, but it made sense that the Last Battle would have to involve time distortion. Even a fictional battle between the ultimate forces of Good and Evil can’t extend for 350k words; fights are intense and tiring; rarely prolonged. Time dilation allows time to crawl infinitely slowly near where Rand fights the Dark One (and his mini-boss) and it moves in days (or weeks) the further away. This allows the cast of lesser-heroes and villains to get in on the action. It means the battle can be more nuanced that a choreographed fight scene.

Keeping the tension up in such a book would be challenging. Jordan has set the context of the novels and it’s a different tone to George RR Martin. Readers going in can be confident that Rand will win the Last Battle. And further, they can be confident that the cost of that victory isn’t going to be too high. The victory would come (potentially) with some losses but not the obliteration that would be almost expected had Martin written the series.

Plot Twists are a very Delicate Balance. A very delicate balance. A successful plot twist is surprising yet inevitable. The reader has to be surprised by a plot twist, but then with the benefit of hindsight see that there have been hints along the way and this is the logical outcome.

One of these which worked excellently for me, was the genius of Matt and the Horn of Valere. Early on in the series Matt blows the Horn and summons up the ghostly apparitions of heroes to push back the Seanchan army. Everyone knows that in doing so he is linked to the Horn until death. The heroes will only come at his horn blow. He’s also recounted many times that he died or near-died (I think both are used) when he was hung from the tree and saved by Rand. And though he tells us he’s died because he’s alive and well I hadn’t connected the two. And so as the Last Battle rages and the forces of Evil are winning with the Horn on the wrong side of the battlefield I had no idea how Matt was going to get to it. It turns out, he didn’t need to. Genius.

I didn’t see the connection between the events. Undoubtedly others did. To say it another way, the plot twist worked for me. One that didn’t work for me (at all) were the Sharans.

As the Last Battle is progressing the Sharan army appear through a Gateway from a distant land and surprise the forces of Light by joining the Dark side. A vast army with a lot of male and female wielders of the One Power, they are a counter-balance against the White Tower and Seanchan channelers. (The Black Tower is split down the middle).

The Sharans have scattered mentions throughout the books, often by alternate names. And the Forsaken, Demandred, was mentioned to have been notably absent a lot, as in “what’s he doing?”. They were referenced so infrequently that I had assumed they were referenced to expand the world. I thought it was Jordan pointing at shadows to assure the reader the world was deeper and broader than that which the reader had seen. I didn’t think they were important, and honestly, had largely forgotten about them.

In the later book they were given a greater prominence but coming so late in the series the sections felt clunky. I assumed that Jordan was pulling a ‘Tom Bombadil‘: letting his imaginative expression override his this-fits internal editor. I actually found the sections annoying because they were taking me out of the story.

So when the Sharan appear in the Last Battle, it didn’t click for me. I didn’t think it a brilliant plot twist; more of a deus ex machina to help balance the Dark side of the forces. That might be harsh but the plot twist didn’t work for me.

Speaking of deus ex machina: the new form of Travelling using the True Power. I suspect it was added so that the enemy could zip in-and-away constantly.

I did like the fact that the Great Captain’s were all corrupted (or at least taken off the playing field). Though it doesn’t rise to the level of a plot twist, it was a clever plot turn. Here is this resource that we expect the side of the Light to have, and yet in one foul swoop it is taken away.

The ending… it didn’t really leave me feeling satisfied. I think I would have preferred if Rand had died in a final heroic act.

Onto my highlights:

  • The approaching refugees would soon discover that they’d been marching toward danger. It was not surprising. Danger was in all directions. The only way to avoid walking toward it would be to stand still. (Page 70)
  • The bored soldier there had a face like an old shovel—it was half-covered in dirt and would be better off locked in a shed somewhere. (Page 261)
  •  He did not go into the Rahad. The place looked different, now. There were soldiers camped outside it. Generations of successive rulers in Ebou Dar had allowed the Rahad to fester unchecked, but the Seanchan were not so inclined. Mat wished them luck. The Rahad had fought off every invasion so far. Light. Rand should have just hidden there, instead of going up to fight the Last Battle. The Trollocs and Darkfriends would have come for him, and the Rahad would have left them all unconscious in an alley, their pockets turned inside out and their shoes sold for soup money. (Page 262)
  •  “Being in charge isn’t always about telling people what to do. Sometimes, it’s about knowing when to step out of the way of people who know what they’re doing.” (Page 295)
  •  The entire land wilted faster than a boy at Bel Tine with no dancing partners. (Page 336)

 And some more funny one-upmanship between Rand and Matt.

Rand: “What did you do to your eye?”
Matt: “A little accident with a corkscrew and thirteen angry innkeepers. The hand?”
“Lost it capturing one of the Forsaken.”
“Capturing?” Mat said. “You’re growing soft.”
Rand snorted. “Tell me you’ve done better.”
“I killed a gholam,” Mat said.
“I freed Illian from Sammael.”
“I married the Empress of the Seanchan.”
“Mat,” Rand said, “are you really trying to get into a bragging contest with the Dragon Reborn?” He paused for a moment. “Besides, I cleansed saidin. I win.”
“Ah, that’s not really worth much,” Mat said.
“Not worth much? It’s the single most important event to happen since the Breaking.”
“Bah. You and your Asha’man are already crazy,” Mat said, “so what does it matter?” He glanced to the side. “You look nice, by the way. You’ve been taking better care of yourself lately.”

“Sure,” Mat said. “By the way, I saved Moiraine. Chew on that as you try to decide which of the two of us is winning.” Mat followed Tuon, and behind him rose the laughter of the Dragon Reborn. (Page 368)

It seems late to make the decision, but I think I like Matt’s point-of-views best. He has more of a cheeky disposition which is fun to read:

  • Her new clothing looked very nice on her … Min’s was a dark green shiny silk with black embroidery and wide, open sleeves that were at least long enough to stick your head into. They had done up her hair, too, sticking bits of metal into it, silver with inset firedrops. There were hundreds of them. If this whole Doomseer title did not work out for her, perhaps she could find work as a chandelier. (Page 544) 
  • “Please, if I might make a humble suggestion, Highness? You are unprotected; let me at least give you some proper armor.” Mat thought for a moment, then agreed that her suggestion was a prudent one. A person could get hurt out there, what with arrows flying and blades swinging. Tylee called over one of her senior officers who seemed to be about the same size as Mat. She had the man remove his armor, which was extremely colorful, overlapping plates lacquered green, gold and red, outlined with silver. The officer looked bemused when Mat handed him his coat in trade, saying that he expected it to be returned at the end of the day in the same condition. (Page 558)
  • If you do not learn from your losses, you will be ruled by them. (Page 425) 

This below quote is worth a mention. A murderer standing over you is scary. One who is thoughtfully considering an everyday thing about you takes it further.

  • Still, bedding down here was like trying to sleep while a murderer stood beside your bed, holding a knife and contemplating the color of your hair. (Page 629)
  •  “Thank you.” She glanced at the sword.
  • “I’m a Warder now.” He shrugged. “Might as well look like one, eh?” He could cut a Trolloc in half with a gateway at three hundred paces, and summon fire from inside Dragonmount itself, and he still wanted to carry a sword. It was, she decided, a male thing. (Page 697)
  •  Some men would call it brash, foolhardy, suicidal. The world was rarely changed by men who were unwilling to try being at least one of the three. (Page 885)  
  • Below, the battle churned like a meat grinder, ripping men and Trollocs into chunks of dead flesh. (Page 950)

 And just a couple of interesting words:

  • starveling (Page 70)
  • occluded (Page 477)

Thus ended the Wheel of Time. If you’ve read it, I’d be curious to hear how you felt about the ending?